Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Daring Bakers: Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream

After months of drooling over other people's Daring Bakers challenges, I decided last month that it was time for me to join this amazing baking group. If you're not familiar, this is a group of food bloggers who bake a challenging recipe once a month, and then all post them on the same day. I've seen them make pastries, cakes, and breads, and I decided this would be the perfect opportunity for me to bake more in my own kitchen.

Testing out my new piping kit.

The first challenge was a rich, nutty layer cake, and it had six different components that came together in the final cake. It was a challenge, but I learned a lot as I put together my masterpiece. I had a chance to try piping, which was a lot of fun. I didn't have any real skills to show off, but I enjoyed playing around with the different tips to see what I could design. I made a ganache for the first time. And, most important to me, I managed to make a cake with three layers that looked pretty darn decent.

I had trouble getting the sugar to melt for my praline paste, so I had to leave that out of the icing. I did add ground up hazelnuts, though, to keep that flavor going throughout the cake. I used dark rum where ever liquor was called for, and I made a different buttercream recipe after reading about other bakers' struggles with the Swiss Buttercream.

I did what Chris, the host, suggested, and made buttercream with 12 oz softened cream cheese, 2 sticks softened butter, about 4 cups of powdered sugar, and 1 tsp of vanilla. Once it was blended smoothly, I added about 4 Tbsp of ground hazelnuts.

Some Daring Bakers complained about having to make yet another layered cake with buttercream, but as this was my first challenge I did not have a problem with the chosen recipe. I had a lot of fun putting this cake together! My only complaint-- I only made this for us to eat at home, when I should have planned a reason to share it with others!

For the original recipe, check Chris's blog here.

To see what other Daring Bakers did with the recipe, click here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

20 minute chicken with tomatoes

This is one of the best quick meals I've ever made. So many times you see simple shortcut type recipes, and they end up seriously compromising flavor for the sake of speed. Not the case here. I think the seasoning was the most important part... I've finally gotten the hang of proper salt and pepper ratios. This came from Real Simple magazine, which I had to buy this month when I saw the 20 minute meals cover feature. In honor of the simple meal, I'll keep this as a simple post. Enjoy!

Chicken Cutlets with Tomato Saute

Real Simple August 2008 (p.154)
Time: 45 minutes | serves 4

1 ½ lbs small chicken cutlets (8-12)
Kosher Salt and Pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ pints grape or cherry tomatoes
½ cup dry white wine (Such as sauvignon blanc)
4 scallions, sliced
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, chopped

Season the chicken with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, cook the chicken until browned and cooked through, 2-3 minutes per side; transfer to plates.

Add the tomatoes to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to burst, 2-3 minutes.

Add the wine and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the scallions and tarragon and serve with the chicken.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Our new toy!

After a few years of living in apartments where we couldn't have a grill, Joe and I finally live in a condo with a great patio out back. The patio has been missing something since we moved in, though, and last weekend we finally filled that void. Check it out, isn't it nice?

I didn't think it was so nice at first, when we had to put the thing together ourselves. It was a 2 person job, and quite a challenge with the vague directions, but after an hour or two we had something that resembled a grill. That was last Sunday, and now this Sunday I'm happy to report we've already used the grill five times! We made kabobs with grilled potato salad, Asian Pork and Mushroom burgers (which I highly recommend), pattypan squash, award wining brauts, and round zucchini filled with turkey. It has been a good food week here at our house, that's for sure. I love the grill already, and Joe and I both are interested in cooking on it. I have numerous ideas for recipes I'd like to try on it, and I think I'll this is an investment that will be gracing the pages of this blog many times in the upcoming months.

I knew Bobby Flay was my go-to guy for a side dish from the grill, and this grilled potato salad was just the type of recipe I was looking for. The dressing on this salad was what made it great, and I thought grilling the potatoes was a fun way to make the dish summery. I should have boiled the potatoes a bit longer than I did, but I was afraid they would fall apart if I let them cook too much. We're going to have friends over to enjoy the grill in the next couple weeks, and I think this will make a great side dish for a simple get together.

French Style Grilled Potato Salad
by Bobby Flay on Boy Meets Grill

2 1/2 pounds small new potatoes (red and yellow), scrubbed
1/2 cup olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
8 cornichon, finely diced
2 tablespoons capers, drained

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh chervil, for garnish

Cover potatoes with water in a medium saucepan. Add 2 tablespoons salt. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer until tender, about 8 minutes. Drain potatoes and let cool and slice in half.

Heat the grill to medium.

Brush the potatoes with 1/4 cup of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the potatoes on the grill, cut-side down and grill until lightly golden brown, about 4 minutes. Turn the potatoes over and continue grilling until just cooked through, about 4 minutes longer.

While the potatoes are grilling, whisk together the vinegar, mustard and oil in a large bowl, add the red onion, cornichon and capers and stir to combine.

Remove the potatoes from the grill and immediately add to the bowl with the other ingredients and gently stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Let sit at room temperature at least 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped chervil.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

No- Fuss Paella

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit friends that were studying abroad in Spain. It was a country I might not have visited on my own agenda, but since my friends were living there I decided it was a trip I needed to make. I didn't know what to expect before the trip, but I came away with a love of Spanish food and culture. I love their laid back attitude and late schedule (dinner at 10 or 11 pm!), and even on very poor student budgets we managed a few memorable meals during our trip.

I've attempted various tapas previously, like our Spanish Date Night, but for some reason Paella has always really intimidated me. I think it's the shellfish, or maybe the wide paella pans that you're supposed to use. Either way, it was not something I planned on making myself, until I recently ran across a simple sounding version in Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals 2. Some Rachael Ray recipes make me cringe, but this one seemed like an authentic version of a complicated entree. The recipe calls for saffron, shellfish, and chorizo, which made me feel like it wasn't too much of a shortcut recipe.

Joe and I went to the Fish Guy to get the mussels and shrimp, and I was very impressed with the knowledgeable staff there. The prices are not the cheapest, but you know you're getting high quality when you shop there. I hope to have the chance to shop there more, but their 6:00 closing time during the week is pretty much impossible for me to get to in time. We got the chorizo at Harvest Time, the Mexican grocery store right near my house. It was amazing on its own, and even better in the paella. I am going to have to think of other uses for chorizo, because I want to eat more of it!

This was a typical "30 minutes, but actually an hour" type of Rachael Ray recipe. The result was delicious, but it was not as quick and easy as she promised. Cleaning the mussels took a decent amount of work, and we boiled the shrimp shells with veggies and stock to add more flavor. It was a fantastic meal, though, and not far from the paella I've had before. This was one of those fun Sunday night recipes that I dedicate half the day to, but it is worth the effort when it turns out so great!

Paella for Eight

from Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals 2

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 cups enriched white rice

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

1 bay leaf

1 quart chicken broth or stock

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders, cut into thirds

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

3/4 pound chorizo, casing removed and sliced on an angle

1 pound peeled and deveined large shrimp, 24 shrimp

18 green lipped mussels, cleaned

1 cup frozen peas

2 lemons zested

Garnish: 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

4 scallions, chopped

Lemon wedges

Crusty bread, for passing

In a very wide pan or paella pan, preheated over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, crushed garlic, red pepper flakes, add rice and saute 2 or 3 minutes. Add saffron threads, bay leaf, broth, and thyme and bring liquids to a boil over high heat. Cover the pan with lid or foil and reduce heat to simmer.

In a separate nonstick skillet, over medium high heat brown chicken on both sides in 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add peppers and onions to the pan and cook 3 minutes longer. Add chorizo to the pan and cook 2 minutes more. Remove pan from heat.

After about 13 minutes, add shellfish to the rice pan, nesting them in cooking rice. Pour in peas, scatter lemon zest over the rice and seafood, then cover the pan again. After 5 minutes, remove cover or foil from the paella and discard any unopened mussel shells. Stir rice and seafood mixture and lift out bay and thyme stems, now bare of their leaves. Arrange cooked chicken and peppers, onions and chorizo around the pan. Top with parsley and scallions. Serve with wedges of lemon and warm bread.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ile de France Camembert Cheese

I recently had the chance to sample some cheese from Ile de France, a french cheese company that imports to the United States. I am a cheese addict, so I jumped at the chance to try a new brand of cheese. I decided to sample the Camembert, because I've had less experience with this type of cheese. It was a treat to receive a chilled UPS package in the mail at work, and I couldn't wait to get home to try the cheese.

I knew that the round of cheese was enough for me to enjoy more than one way. I decided to eat some with crackers and grapes, for a before dinner snack, and to make a recipe with some of the cheese, too. I've learned a few tips about cheese from my mom, so I tried to use my best practices to enjoy the Camembert properly. I know, I know, any French person would be appaled at my cheese snacking before dinner, since the cheese course comes after the main meal in France. As much as I love all things French, though, I'll still an American girl at heart, and for me cheese's rightful place is before the meal begins.

One part of French cheese culture that has rubbed off on me is eating it at room temperature. Cheese straight from the fridge is rubbery and bland, so you really miss a lot if you have been eating your cheese chilled. Once the cheese has warmed up, it becomes soft and full of flavor. The camembert was no exception to this rule.

As soon as I started to feel faint hunger pains, I knew it was time for my preparation to begin. I took the cheese out of the fridge, cut out a piece that I wanted to eat, and set it on the plate. I added some Port Salut cheese (a soft, mild French cheese that I love) and a bit of goat cheese I had left over, then I just walked away. Though it sounds simple, this may be the hardest part. But trust me, the cheese will be so much better tasting if you just wait 20 or 30 minutes, I promise.

The Camembert was fantastic! Creamy, and just sharp enough to catch your attention. I am no cheese expert, but I do know that I liked this! It had a rind that was not tough or moldy, so it was easy to eat the cheese without going around it. I think Camembert is a cheese that almost anyone would like, while still being interesting and gourmet. I ate it with simple crackers and some grapes on the side, and was very happy with the combination.

The recipe I found for the Camembert was the Leek and Camembert Tart from I had some problems with the execution, but the taste of this tart was fantastic. I couldn't get the walls of the tart to be high enough to hold all the custard, and I think next time I'll make this in a tart pan with sides. The leeks and camembert were a perfect pairing, though, so I think with a little tweaking this will become an all star dish to serve to company.

Leek and Camembert Tart from

1 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter

4 leeks (white and pale green parts only), sliced (about 4 cups)

1/4 cup water

2/3 cup whipping cream

4 ounces Camembert cheese, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 large egg

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Pinch of ground nutmeg

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll out each pastry sheet on lightly floured surface to 12-inch square. Stack squares and roll to 15-inch square. Using 14-inch pizza pan as guide, cut stacked dough into 14-inch round. Crimp edge of dough to form 1/4-inch rim. Transfer to pizza pan or baking sheet. Freeze 10 minutes.

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and 1/4 cup water; cook until leeks are tender, about 15 minutes. Season leeks with salt; set aside to cool. Bring cream to simmer in medium saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; add Camembert and stir until melted. Remove from heat and cool 5 minutes. Whisk in egg, cayenne, and nutmeg. Set custard aside.

Sprinkle Parmesan over crust. Spread leeks over. Drizzle custard over. Bake until bottom is golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cookbook Challenge: Absorption Pasta

I go back and forth on my opinion on trying new recipes or techniques for old standby recipes. Sometimes a new idea will spark great flavors in a classic dish, but other times the new recipe will leave you wondering if there was actually anything wrong in the first place. I cook a lot of pasta in my kitchen, and I've always cooked my noodles the way most people do-- by boiling them. I didn't even think there could be another way to cook noodles until I came across the Cacao and Zucchini Absorption Pasta in my Chocolate and Zucchini cookbook.

The method involves cooking the noodles in liquid, similar to the technique used to make risotto. You coat the noodles in olive oil and sauteed onions and garlic, then add just enough stock to cover the noodles. The broth absorbs into the pasta, cooking the noodles and flavoring them at the same time. Sounds interesting, doesn't it? I thought so, too, so I decided it would be this week's Cookbook Challenge recipe.

I ended up pretty disappointed in my results. I think my biggest mistake was adding too much liquid, which lead to really mushy pasta by the time it was absorbed. I used a very wide saute pan, but wonder if something smaller might have worked better. And even if the cooking technique had worked out, I thought the flavors were kind of boring. I added Herbes de Provence to my recipe, and used the pine nuts I had on hand in place of the cacao nibs.

At first I thought this was a crummy recipe, and that I wouldn't bother with it again. If my pasta boiling technique is working, then there is really no need to replace it. But before I wrote this post I found the original blog entry on the Chocolate and Zucchini website, and the description and resulting comments made me re-think my position. If so many people had great things to say about this dish, maybe it's worth another try to see if my technique improves and results in a new and interesting pasta dish. I might wait until the weather cools down a bit, and see how it works out as a fall evening pasta dinner. Let me know if you have any success with this recipe.

From Chocolate and Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier

Ingredients (Serves 4)

6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
14 oz dried short pasta, such as ricciole, penne, or fusilli
4 small zucchini, cut into sticks or thin slices
2 tbsp cacao nibs (not chocolate-coated), toasted in a dry skillet and coarsely crushed (substitute with 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted)

Aged Parmesan, coarsely grated


  1. Pour stock in a pot over medium-high heat and keep warm.
  2. As stock is warming up, heat oil in a wide sauté pan. Add garlic and onion and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, until fragrant, stirring regularly to avoid colouring. Add pasta and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Add just enough stock to cover pasta, and lower heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more stock when absorbed. Five minutes into cooking, add zucchini and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Taste pasta for doneness. If not quite done and all the liquid is absorbed, add a little more stock or water, cover, and cook for a few more minutes. Repeat until al dente consistency; total cooking time will depend on the type of pasta. Adjust seasoning, transfer into bowls or plates, sprinkle with cacao nibs and Parmesan, and serve immediately.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Taste of the Islands

Recently, our friends Jess and Henry went on their honeymoon to St Lucia, and they can back with a gift and a challenge. The gift was the exotic treat of banana ketchup, and the challenge was to use it in my blog. Now I'm sure they would still be friends with me if I just ate the ketchup and left it at that, but I knew I couldn't let them down on blogging out it.

What a treat it was! My initial thought was that it would be just like regular katchup with a little banana flavor, and I assumed it would have tomato as the base. It turned out to be much more banana based than I expected, with the vingear taste that was exactly like regular ketchup. Joe and I each tasted it on its own, to really get the flavor. Joe liked it with fries, while I prefered to use it as a base for a marinade.

Shrimp seemed like the perfect canvas for my marinade; it felt like banana ketchup was meant for seafood. I made a marinade with olive oil, banana ketchup, salt and pepper, and scallions. I put the cleaned shrimp in a baggie with the marinade, threw it in the fridge, and forgot about it for a couple hours. When I was ready, I put the shrimp on skewers and grilled them under the broiler for a few minutes. Shrimp cooks quickly, so be sure to keep an eye on it! The resulting shrimp were tender and flavorful, with just enough banana flavor to keep it interesting. I had planned before hand to only buy enough shrimp for one dinner, and I have a feeling I would have eaten any leftovers that same night if there had been any extra!

I found a great new side dish in this month's Bon Appetit. The recipe for Quinoa with Grilled Zucchini, Garbanzo Beans, and Cumin jumped out at me as soon as I saw it, and I knew it would pair nicely with the shrimp. I loved this side dish! I've only recently discovered quinoa, and I love it as a new alternative to our standby couscous. I made the full recipe for 8, figuring I'd take it for lunch during the work week. It made at least 8 large servings, and by the end of the week I was ready to change up my lunch menu. But it was a great summer side dish full of flavors that I love. I highly recommed this, and hope to make it sometime soon to share with friends.

Quinoa with Grilled Zucchini, Garbanzo Beans, and Cumin

from Bon Appetit August 2008

1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 garlic cloves, peeled

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon turmeric, divided

1 teaspoon smoked paprika, divided

2 cups water1 cup quinoa (about 6 ounces), rinsed well, drained

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1 1/2 pounds medium zucchini (about 5), trimmed, quartered lengthwise

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

4 green onions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Combine garbanzo beans and lemon juice in large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons oil; press in garlic and stir to combine. Let marinate at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon paprika; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add 2 cups water, quinoa, and coarse salt; bring to simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until all water is absorbed, about 16 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare barbecue (mediumhigh heat). Place zucchini on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Sprinkle with ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon paprika. Toss to coat evenly.

Place zucchini on grill; sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Grill until tender and browned on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to work surface. Cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Add zucchini, green onions, and parsley, then garbanzo bean mixture to quinoa. Toss to blend. Season with salt and pepper.

Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cookbook Challenge: Tomato Tatin

I took the month of June off, but now I'm back to my Cookbook Challenge. Each month I pick one of my cookbooks to focus on, in an effort to keep them from gathering dust on the bookshelf. This month's cookbook is a fun mix of the internet recipes I depend on, and the physical cookbooks I can't stop buying. Now, if you're reading this, I hope you've already heard of Chocolate & Zucchini, one of my favorite blogs. It is a wonderfully written peek into the cooking and adventures of a Parisian woman, and once you start reading you won't be able to resist going back for more. As you know, I'm obsessed with all things French, so this book was the perfect birthday gift from my parents.

While I've only made one recipe from the book so far, I have to say I love this cookbook! It is written in a style that's similar to a blog, where each recipe has a story or meaning behind it. This is a cookbook I was able to stick in my purse and read on the train to work, which is a feature not many cookbooks can brag about. I've really enjoyed catching a glimpse of Clotilde's kitchen and life in France, and I think most foodies would enjoy just reading through her antidotes.

This Tomato Tatin is all I ask for in a side dish... roasted tomatoes, goat cheese, pesto, and puff pastry. Pretty much the four food groups you need to survive. While I don't think I'd make this again for a regular weeknight dinner (a bit rich for my usual taste), I would love to make this again for guests. It's not too many ingredients, but they blend together perfectly. And It's dramatic when you flip the finished dish over to reveal the tender tomatoes hiding underneath.

Tomato Tatin by Clotilde Dusoulier

1 sheet store bought puff pastry
Extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds roma or plum tomatoes
fine sea salt and fresh ground pepper
herbes de Provence
1/4 cup black olive tapenade (or I used pesto)
6 ounces fresh goat cheese
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves (I had these but forgot to use them!)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 10 inch ceramic quiche pan with 1 tsp olive oil. (I used a small rectangular baking dish)

2. Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and core them. Run your thumb in the hollows of the tomatoes to remove the juice and seeds. Arrange in the pan, skin side down. You can crowd them a little; they will shrink as they bake. Season with salt, pepper, herbs, and a good drizzle of olive oil. Bake for about 30 minutes, until softened. Remove from oven (leave heat on).

3. If you use a round quiche pan, you will need to roll the dough into a circle about 1 inch larger than the pan. Since mine was a rectangle, I simple trimmed it down to the appropriate size. Prick dough all over with a fork. Spread with tapenade or pesto, leaving a 1 inch margin all around.

4. Cut the cheese into 1/3 inch slices and arrange over the tomatoes in the pan. Lay the dough, tapenade side down, on the cheese, and tuck in the overhanging flaps of dough. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

5. Let cook for a few minutes on the rack. Run a knife around the crush to loosen. Place your serving dish over the pan, and flip the tart over onto the serving dish. If any tomatoes stick to the bottom of the pan, just place them back on the tart where they belong. Serve warm or at room temperature. Just before serving, snip or tear the basil leaves and sprinkle over the tart.

This tart ended up being the perfect size to fit on this lovely Irish platter we got as a wedding gift from my parents thoughtful Irish friends.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Escape to the Coast

I feel like I've gone into blog withdrawl. First, work and life just got busy, then we went to LA for four days, then the 4th of July made for a busy weekend after we got back into town. Some of you might have started to wonder about me, but don't you worry, I'm still here. I'm not going to write much tonight, but I had to share some pictures from our wonderful vacation in California. It was a relaxing and eventful four days, and I am already wishing I could be back there. I recommend a few days in SoCal for anyone who's looking to recharge and enjoy the sun. Doesn't hurt if you have fun relatives to hang out with while you're there, too! Thanks Anne and Ron for a fantastic vacation!

We spent some time enjoying the beautiful gardens at the Getty Center, which I would highly recommend. What an amazing setting!

Santa Monica meant sushi and calamari with a beachfront view. Happy hour prices kept us in good spirits.

Nothing like a heaping plate of fried seafood at Neptune's Net just north of Malibu. It's a casual spot with a very diverse crowd, and the view of the ocean is hard to beat.

I'm not a beef eater, but we had to make sure Joe got an In-N-Out fix on our way to the beach.

A beautiful view from Pacific Coast Highway.

Enjoying a margarita at Coral Beach Cantina in Malibu.

Being from the Midwest, we had to eat lots of seafood on our trip. Joe's burrito may look like a regular one, but it's filled with mahi-mahi. It was tasty!

See, he's happy with his seafood burrito. :)

I had fish tacos, which is one of my favorite Mexican dishes.

When visiting California, it's important to take walks on the golf course at night. It's always best if this walk includes a glass of chilled white wine, for maximum relaxation.